Editor’s Note: Comilla Sasson, MD, PhD is an emergency medicine physician and public health services researcher in Denver, Colorado, who has traveled over the US for the last year caring for patients with COVID-19. She is also the creator of CO2 Check, which is dedicated to improving indoor air quality and air flow. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers. View more opinion articles on CNN.
When we get on an airplane, we trust the pilots sitting in the cockpit flying the plane, the flight attendants who are walking through the aisles to keep us safe, and the air traffic control crew managing a myriad of quickly changing conditions. We get on the airplane, go to our seats, and put on our seatbelts.
When we get to cruising altitude, the seatbelt light turns off and we can now move freely aboard the aircraft. But sometimes we hit turbulence. When the pilot comes on the speakers and says, “time to get back in your seats and put your seat belt on,” we (most of us at least), find our seats, put on our seatbelts, and brace ourselves for a rocky ride.
When we put our seatbelts on, do we ask ourselves, why didn’t the pilots, flight attendants or air control predict this? Do we question the credibility, reliability, or intentions of our flight crew? Nope. We understand that things can change quickly, and we must adjust to the conditions. There is a reason for what we are doing.
Well, Covid-19 is the biggest, scariest pandemic plane ride, and the entire world is currently on it together. When we go into lockdowns, restrict travel, and mandate masks and other prevention strategies, health care and public health officials, along with government workers, make these decisions, based on the data they have, with conditions changing quickly, in order to keep the public safe.
Vaccines came out and are ridiculously effective in preventing people from becoming hospitalized as a result of Covid-19. We had hit that beautiful cruising altitude in our pandemic plane ride, where we could all take a breath, literally and figuratively, and take off our masks, see family & friends again, and reopen businesses and schools.
But the vaccines are not a silver bullet. We can still get Covid-19. But the chances are dramatically lower that we will get Covid-19 if we are vaccinated, and even if we do, it will be a mild case that does not require hospitalization. What we didn’t and couldn’t predict, is how quickly Covid-19 itself changes, how much of the world remains unvaccinated, and that this novel coronavirus, which no one had heard of or had to treat just 24 months ago, would cause these crazy, unpredictable, turbulent conditions.
So, here we are. The healthcare and public health professionals are bracing ourselves for a rocky journey, and we need people to help us by sitting down and putting their proverbial “seat belt” (namely, masks) back on. There are many reasons for our turbulence. Here are a few:
- The coronavirus continues to mutate quickly as it spreads from person to person throughout our very interconnected world.
- We are still learning about the virus and how to best prevent, diagnose and treat it.
- There are kids under 12 who are not eligible to get the vaccine.
- We have people in parts of the world who don’t have access to the vaccine.
- We have people right here in the US who are hesitant and have not gotten vaccinated.
- We know Covid-19 is spread through droplets and aerosols, so we must be especially careful in indoor spaces (and even crowded outdoor spaces).
- Ventilation and airflow are key in preventing spread and we still have a long way to go to improve our indoor air.
There are lots of things we are juggling to predict, some we have control over and some we have little control over. And as schools go back in session, there is even more of a sense of urgency to protect people of all ages, throughout the world.
Here is my plea to you: On behalf of your pandemic plane crew, I am begging you, get back in your seats, put on your seatbelts (masks) and get ready for a rocky ride. Even if you’re vaccinated, keep those masks on whenever you’re indoors and when you’re in crowded outdoor settings. Please don’t question if we care about you. Don’t question if we are credible. Don’t question if we are intelligent. Don’t question if we are Republicans, Democrats or whatever.
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We are flying a big giant airplane together, we have passengers (you) that we care deeply and personally about. And I promise, as soon as we can hit some better and less turbulent conditions, we will turn off that seatbelt sign and let you take off our masks and relax again. But keep in mind, those masks may go back on again and we may ask for more help in preventing the spread of Covid-19. We can’t predict the future and how the conditions may change. I just ask that you give us grace, space, and patience as we try to land this pandemic plane safely and smoothly.